Centre Street, in the heart of Sai Ying Pun, is the steepest street in Hong Kong. So as you trudge up the hill past Third Street, you have to look up to see the head peeking out from a bench above.
From street level, it appears to be a man sitting on the bench immobile. But it’s actually a sculpture of a man holding a birdcage, and beyond it there is so much more.
The man is one of five bronze sculptures commissioned for the Yu Lok Lane heritage open space by the Urban Renewal Authority, which completed the project in 2016. They are meant to represent life in Hong Kong in the 1950s, when many of the tenement houses that originally occupied the site were built.
The others are a man carrying dried fish, a little girl washing clothes, a woman with a baby and young child and a man cutting a child’s hair.
The URA preserved four of the units in the cul-de-sac as part of the story the open space tells, said Pauline Lau, senior manager in the works and contracts division.
They have original or restored timber French doors, cement floor tiles, timber floor joists and brick party walls. There is also a restored pitched roof similar to the original.
The first two units, Nos. 9 and 10, are a feature pavilion open to the public. Nos. 11 and 12, which were designated for adaptive reuse, are occupied by the ACE Centre, an organization that promotes intergenerational activities.
The ACE Centre is part of the Mighty Oaks Foundation, a charity founded in 2014 that serves Hong Kong’s elderly population. ACE stands for Anchor Children with Elderly.
One of the group’s main initiatives is connecting elderly homes with neighbourhood schools, pairing residents and students so they can develop meaningful relationships over time through classes and other activities. Participating schools include Island Christian Academy and Kau Yan School.
The ACE Centre also holds language, music and visual arts classes at the Yu Lok Lane site for children and their parents or grandparents.
The classes are held in a no-pressure environment – no homework! – and are meant to encourage lifelong learning and family interaction.
Poh Lee Tan, the director and founder of Mighty Oaks, said the group bid for the heritage site because she and others were taken by its beauty when they walked past it. The ACE Centre has been operating there since August.
“It's not streetfront property, so it's a little bit out of the way for people to find us,” Tan said. “But once they're here, I think they will start to appreciate the benefits of learning together as a family.”
This month the ACE Centre held a photography walking tour of Sai Ying Pun for students and their parents or grandparents. Its official opening is at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20, followed by two hours of community art jamming. To RSVP, call 5226 2665.